Roll-up bike carriage tested on Capitol Limited

On today’s eastbound Capitol Limited (yesterday evening’s Chicago departure), Amtrak conducted its first over-the-road test of vertically-mounted bicycle restraints installed in the lower-level baggage area of one Superliner coach. This represented the first time unboxed bikes were carried on a Superliner-equipped train since they were carried on the Cardinalbefore the train was re-equipped with single-level cars in 2002.

A selected group of cyclists, myself included, boarded with their bikes at Pittsburgh, Connellsville, Harpers Ferry and Rockville. Some detrained at Harpers Ferry, the rest at Washington. At each station, the side door to the previously unused baggage area was opened, cyclists hoisted themselves and their bikes onto the train, and secured their bikes on the racks by first hooking the front wheel to a padded metal hook, then sliding the rear wheel into a U-shaped metal restraining device that springs up from the floor to prevent the bike from shifting side-to-side as the train moves. Below are photos from my experience.

The test went off without a hitch. There minor concerns about the process of loading and unloading bikes, how people with different levels of physical ability would negotiate the process, and whether the process would cause avoidable delay to the train with longer station stops, but everyone was able to load and unload their bikes safely and without assistance (after having read the instructions that had been emailed to each participant before the trip).

Amtrak is interested in allowing passenger to carry unboxed bikes on long-distance routes, and figures the Capitol Limited is a logical one to start with as its route parallels the Great Allegheny Passage and the C&O Canal towpath, two internationally popular bike trails (the former was once a railroad right-of-way that roughly paralleled the tracks the Capitol Limited uses). One concern is that the six bike racks in the Superliner baggage area would not be enough to handle demand in the summer, when thousands of cyclists use the trails between Pittsburgh and Washington.

Installing the bike racks in Superliner coach baggage areas would cost roughly $8,000 per car. Lacking wiggle room in its budget, Amtrak would not commit to a timeline for implementation of unboxed bike carriage in regular revenue service, but suggested that this cost could be paid by a corporate sponsor or nonprofit organization or by appropriations from Congress. While Amtrak would like to equip the entire Superliner fleet at once, it would take a minimum of 6 equipped coach-baggage cars to allow for the service on the Capitol Limited route alone.

NARP will continue to join cycling advocacy groups in calling for Amtrak and its state partners (who will have to propose and pay for such service on routes under 750 miles outside the Northeast Corridor) to allow for unboxed bicycle carriage on all routes, balancing the desire to accommodate as many bikes as possible with space constraints and the need to maintain adequate coach and food service car seating, particularly on single-level trains. This fits in one of NARP’s overarching goals: seamless connectivity between intercity passenger trains and other modes—bicycling being a travel mode that many rely on, and would help more passengers solve the “last mile” problem that can cause people to choose to drive versus taking the train. NARP will also ask advocates of cycling and other travel modes that complement trains to join with us in calling on Congress to provide Amtrak the reliable funding it needs to procure more equipment so more people (and their bikes) can be carried on existing routes and new routes can be added.

 

Comments   

 
0 #11 Ray 2013-10-29 17:19
Why cant tbey use the same bike racks in the cars that the City Buses use?
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+1 #10 Robbie Clampitt 2013-10-26 14:59
I am the Sales and Marketing director for Gear Up Inc. And we can off the most space saving cost effective solution for this. In that amount of space we could fit at the least 10 bikes for a fraction of the cost their speaking on in the above posts. Our commercial market for Gear Up has grown considerably due to projects like this that we have the perfect products for.
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0 #9 Bill Yearout 2013-10-21 19:00
This is great news for those wishing to cycle in WV - and especially when connections with the Eastern Panhandle Recreational Trail in Harpers Ferry and in Martinsburg are completed.
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+1 #8 Kathi Brown 2013-10-21 17:31
I'm delighted that the experiment went well, but like other posters, I'm flabbergasted and puzzled by the high cost of installing a few simple bike racks. Is there a liability issue of some kind factored into the price?? Are there lower-cost alternatives that can be gleaned by studying how other countries handle on-boarding bikes on their trains? Or perhaps the bike shops on either end of the route can offer some advice? Corporate sponsorship sounds fine, if absolutely necessary---may be bike shops or communities along GAP and the C&O could sponsor one or more racks each? Good publicity and in keeping with the spirit of why the racks are a welcome addition to the train service. Possibly a win-win-win for Amtrak, the trail stewards and the trail cyclists.
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0 #7 Joe Versaggi 2013-10-18 12:36
Good way to use dead space in the belly of those Superliner cars - should have done this years ago. It should also increase the train's load factor east of Pittsburgh, which is lower than west of Pittsburgh, and lacks a great volume of intermediate business. The C-L has no travel restrictions in its tariffs within the MARC and WMATA service areas.
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+2 #6 Robert Tilley 2013-10-18 07:00
How about 10 hooks and a bunch of bungee cords?? Bikes are currently carried on regional (state partnered) Amtrak lines like the Pacific Surfliner "without a hitch" and with racks presumably costing far less than $1000 per bike. Buses, light rails, subways, regional passenger rail all can all carry bikes without any drama. What has Amtrak done with all the money it collects for those darn boxes?? That could have retrofitted all their cars by now! I'm happy there is some forward movement here, and I know they have serious underfunding from Congress, but I think this is low hanging fruit that can really transform travel.
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0 #5 Tom Street 2013-10-17 19:37
This is a great start! Road the GAP and C&O this past summer,then the Capital Limited back to Pittsburgh.Goin g through the boxing and baggage hastle on the train back was the worst part of the trip.
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+2 #4 Michael B 2013-10-17 17:54
"The test went off without a hitch."
Don't get me wrong and this is GREAT news, but on the other hand this is NOT rocket science, it is a bike rack. And I too, do not understand the cost. If the cost were more reasonable, it would certainly make it easier for all of the folks involved to swallow and there would be no hedging on the date.
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+2 #3 Jeff P 2013-10-17 16:55
I agree on the cost question. We really need to see the formal quotes. Even if there is FRA certification required this number does not make sense.

Once we get the details, I can see many side-funding options for some or all of the costs of the racks. Advocacy groups, individuals, and bike shops come to mind. I would love to see a plaque on a bike rack with "This rack sponsored by (Local Bike Shop)"
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+2 #2 Jim Pakala 2013-10-16 22:29
Why do 5 bike-holders (see photos) cost $8000? Even $1000 apiece is high. How about $800 apiece and a $4000 total?
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